Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, 2012.
Directed by Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor.
Starring Nicolas Cage, Violante Placido, Ciarán Hinds, Idris Elba, Johnny Whitworth, Fergus Riordan and Christopher Lambert.
Hiding out in Eastern Europe, Johnny Blaze (Nicolas Cage) is forced to take on the mantle of Ghost Rider once more to protect a young boy (Fergus Riordan) from the Devil (Ciarán Hinds).
On paper, 2012 could be the greatest year in the history of superhero movies. In May, Marvel Studios finally complete a journey that began back in 2008 with the release of Iron Man as director Joss Whedon assembles The Avengers, while July sees Andrew Garfield swinging onto screens as The Amazing Spider-Man and Christopher Nolan completes his acclaimed Batman trilogy with the hugely-anticipated third installment, The Dark Knight Rises. However, before we get to those sure-fire blockbusters, Nicolas Cage returns to the screen as Johnny Blaze courtesy of Crank directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor in the year’s first superhero offering, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance.
Seeing as Neveldine/Taylor have continually played down the connection between this latest release and Mark Steven Johnson’s sorely disappointing 2007 original, I resisted the urge to rewatch Ghost Rider prior to seeing Spirit of Vengeance – partly because I wanted to view the film without prejudice, and partly because I just couldn’t stomach sitting through the first movie again. However, considering that the film received a disastrous reception when it screened at Harry Knowles’ Butt-Numb-A-Thon last November – not to mention Cage’s rapidly-declining standards (see Season of the Witch, Drive Angry, Justice and Trespass for last year alone) – I must admit I wasn’t holding out too much hope for Spirit of Vengeance. Still, with David S. Goyer (Blade, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight et al.) handling the story, surely it would be better than Ghost Rider, right? Well, not exactly... it’s certainly not any worse, but it’s hardly an improvement either.
Spirit of Vengeance starts out with a priest, Moreau (Idris Elba), attempting to prevent a young boy, Danny (Fergus Riordan), from being captured by a gang of mercenaries led by Carrigan (Johnny Whitworth), who also happens to be an old flame of Danny’s gypsy mother, Nadya (Violante Placido). Unsuccessful in his efforts, Moreau turns to stunt rider-turned-Satan’s bounty hunter, Johnny Blaze (Cage), offering to free him of his curse if he can protect Danny from falling into the hands of the Devil (Ciarán Hinds). You see, as it turns out, Danny is the product of another of Beelzebub’s deals, this time with Nadya, and now Satan wants to transfer his evil Earthly essence into his offspring, providing him with the necessary power to take over the world. Or something to that effect.
Naturally Blaze jumps at the chance to rid himself of the Rider and soon gets his flame on, rescuing the boy from Hartigan and his goons before setting off on a road-trip with Danny, Nadya and Moreau, hoping to find sanctuary with a group of monks led by a heavily-tattooed Christopher Lambert. Meanwhile, in order to give himself the edge in his wicked scheme, the Devil bestows Carrigan with demonic abilities of his own, namely the power of decay, turning him into the villainous Blackout. And so with the chase on, the stage is set for plenty of over-the-top action set pieces, en route to the inevitable showdown between Satan and his flaming-skulled foe.
Much was made of the fact that the film was slapped with a PG-13 rating in North America, despite its directors’ insistence that Spirit of Vengeance would deliver a fan-pleasing orgy of action-packed violence. Here in the U.K., it’s been classified 12A, which roughly translates to ‘mild PG-13’, and that should tell you pretty much everything you need to know about the action on offer. The directing duo defended the PG-13 rating by claiming that the film has “a giant body count” and that “you can kill a lot of people by burning them up and turning them into ash.” They’re right on both counts but frankly, once you’ve seen one guy burst into flames, you’ve seen them all. Nevertheless, the action sequences themselves are fairly entertaining, even if they do leave you feeling somewhat nauseous due to the incessant shaky camera movements and rapid-fire edits that seem to plague practically every shot in the film.
In all honesty, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance doesn’t provide too many opportunities for praise. Sure, Cage delivers a fairly solid turn as Ghost Rider and gives us a handful of obligatory ‘Crazy Nic Cage’ moments to keep us entertained, but apart from some improved visual effects there’s really not much else on offer. Idris Elba, Violante Placido and Fergus Riordan are decent enough, and it’s always nice to see Christopher Lambert on screen (even if his role is very brief), but I thought the usually solid Ciarán Hinds was a poor substitute for Peter Fonda in the role of the Devil and while Johnny Whitworth’s Blackout is slightly less awful than Wes Bentley’s Blackheart, let’s face it – we could be saying that about any actor cast as any villain.
According to Neveldine and Taylor, Cage is keen to get back on the bike for a third outing as Ghost Rider and sadly, considering that this is the first superhero movie out of the gate this year, it’s probably going to pull in more than enough at the box office to make that a reality. We can only hope that Cage has a change of heart and manages to free himself of this curse, because with Spirit of Vengeance, the Ghost Rider franchise has crashed and burned again.